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Norham Castle tower keep castle

A Scheduled Monument in Norham, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.7211 / 55°43'16"N

Longitude: -2.1503 / 2°9'0"W

OS Eastings: 390657.331593

OS Northings: 647533.837417

OS Grid: NT906475

Mapcode National: GBR F2F8.8Z

Mapcode Global: WH9YN.YG7G

Entry Name: Norham Castle tower keep castle

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 25 May 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009659

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23229

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Norham

Built-Up Area: Norham

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Norham St Cuthbert

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument comprises two areas which together include the remains of the
tower keep castle at Norham. The remains are incorporated within three
enclosures or wards, each bounded by earthwork defences. The inner ward is the
site of the earliest castle and includes a natural mound, protected on the
south side by a 20m wide ditch measuring up to 10m deep, and on the north
side, by its own steep gradient and the River Tweed. During the 12th century,
a large square stone keep was built within this enclosure and was complete by
1174. At about the same time a curtain wall was constructed round the
perimeter. These structures are believed to have replaced an earlier timber
keep and palisade since records indicate that there was a castle here as early
as 1121.

The foundations of the 12th century curtain remain, but as the wall was
rebuilt several times, the one standing today is largely 16th century.
Similarly the buildings which line its inner face and include the bishop's
hall and numerous service buildings, are also 16th century and overlie similar
buildings of an earlier date which include at least two halls or residences,
namely the 12th century hall of Bishop Hugh Puisset and the late 13th century
hall of Bishop Antony Bek. The keep, originally three storeys high, was
largely reconstructed between 1422 and 1425 when two floors were added above
the second storey, necessitating the heightening of the walls and the
insertion of a central supporting wall. The lower floors too were divided by
crosswalls, showing that the keep was of the rarer kind known as a hall keep.
Originally, access from outside was to the first floor only via an external
stair. In the 15th century, however, a forebuilding was added containing a
spiral stair that led to all floors and onto the roof. An annexe was also
added to the south east wall in the 15th century and in the 16th century, the
north half of the keep fell out of use following sacking and burning in

The inner ward was reached via a drawbridge across the inner moat. This led to
a gateway that was first constructed in the 12th century but has been rebuilt
several times. The gate was also protected by a barbican or fortified
approach. Also during the 12th century, the outer ward was constructed to
the south of the inner ward. This crescent shaped enclosure is also bounded by
a deep defensive ditch which, on the south west side, has been partially
disrupted by the modern road from Norham to Berwick upon Tweed. An original
12th century curtain wall can be seen above the ditch along the east side
of the outer ward, crossing the ditch round the inner ward and joining the
wall of the keep. At its east end the outer ward ditch branches northward
round the base of the inner ward and southward to enclose the third ward which
lies to the south east. This third enclosure appears not to have been defended
by more than its ditch, which encircled it completely and rejoined the outer
ward ditch below the south gate. Because it does not contain any stone
defensive works, the third ward is interpreted as a subsidiary enclosure which
will retain the buried remains of features such as corrals for livestock and

Aside from the 12th century remains along its east side, there is as yet no
evidence that the outer ward was protected by a curtain wall until the
13th century. Along the south side are fragments of the 13th century arches
which originally supported the wall and were, themselves, buried within an
earth rampart. The remains of two round-fronted bastions of a similar date
also survive, west of the south or Sheep Gate which was built in the early
13th century. East of this gate are two more bastions which are believed also
to have originated in the 13th century. Both however were remodelled in the
16th century and the one nearest the gate was converted to a cottage in the
18th century. The one furthest from the gate includes well-preserved 16th
century gun-ports, and similar adaptations for artillery were made to the
bastions west of the gate. The gate itself was also altered in the 16th
century though now only its earlier lower part remains standing.

The curtain round the north side of the outer ward is also largely 16th
century but appears to have replaced an earlier wall whose remains can be seen
crossing the ditch round the inner ward at its north end. The later wall
survives to a great height and its lower part includes three casements or
recesses containing gun-ports. At its western end, the wall ends at the
barbican protecting the west or Marmion's Gate. The gate was built in the
12th century but went out of use in the 14th century when it was walled up. In
the 15th century it was replaced by a new gate and the barbican was added.
Access was via a drawbridge whose pit survives beneath the modern bridge. In
addition to its defensive features, the outer ward was the site of numerous
ancillary buildings. These will have included workshops, lodgings for the
castle garrison and stables, and the remains of these will survive as buried
features. A number of ancillary features survive as standing remains and can
be identified; for example, the chapel at the north end of the inner ditch,
and a lean-to building south of the west gate, constructed in 1492 as a
workshop and ox-shed. Also in the inner ditch are the remains of a watering
and washing place constructed by Bishop Fox in 1495, in addition to a stone
conduit at the east end of the ditch, intended to supply it with water from
nearby Mill Burn.

Although currently situated in Northumberland, Norham was formerly part of the
County Palatine of Durham; an area in which the Prince Bishops of Durham
enjoyed the rights and privileges which, elsewhere in the kingdom, were
exercised by the king. Norham Castle was the chief stronghold and
administrative centre of the principality and, in normal circumstances, was
governed by a constable appointed by the bishop. At other times, for example
during a national emergency or if the king had reason to doubt the loyalty of
the bishop, the Crown took possession of the castle and the king appointed his
own man and garrison. The rights of the bishops were such, however, that once
the threat was past, the castle had to be restored and could not be claimed
forfeit to the Crown. This situation was not changed until 1559 when, together
with Holy Island, Norham was alienated from the see of Durham and reserved by
the Crown.

The castle of 1121 was built by Bishop Ranulf Flambard. In 1136 and 1138 it
was captured by King David I of Scotland, and, in the latter siege, its
fortifications destroyed. During the second half of the 12th century, the
inner ward was rebuilt in stone by Bishop Hugh Puisset. This work is thought
to have been finished by 1174 since, in that year, Puisset was forced to
surrender the castle to Henry II and it remained in royal hands till 1197.
Between 1208 and 1217 it was again under the king's control, during which
time, in 1214, it withstood a 40 day siege by Alexander II of Scotland. By
1237, England was at peace with Scotland and remained so throughout most of
13th century so that Norham was retained by the bishops. During the latter
part of that century, Bishop Antony Bek strengthened the castle with the
latest developments of military architecture, and such was its reputation,
that it was not attacked in 1311 and 1312 when Robert de Brus invaded England.
In 1314, and again in 1315, it was surrendered to Edward II to be used as a
royal power base, and in the ensuing war against Scotland it was twice
besieged by de Brus; for nearly a year in 1318 and for seven months in 1319.
Each time it endured and was not attacked again until 1322, again
unsuccessfully. In 1327, however, the Scots took it by storm and it was
restored to the bishop only after a temporary peace was signed between England
and Scotland in March of that year. The castle was not attacked during the
conflict that arose from de Brus's death in 1329 which ended with the complete
defeat of the Scots at the battle of Neville's Cross in 1346.

During the relative peace of the next hundred years, the castle underwent
repairs and alterations that made it more comfortable to live in. During the
Wars of the Roses it was initially held for Edward IV and in 1463 was
unsuccessfully beseiged for 18 days by the Lancastrian forces of Henry
VI. In 1464 however, it changed sides and was only retaken by the Yorkists
following the Lancastrian defeats at Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. During the
latter part of the 15th century it was strengthened and supplied with
artillery and munitions by Edward IV, Richard III and Bishop Fox, who
succeeded to the see of Durham in 1494. In 1497 it was again unsuccessfully
besieged, this time by James IV of Scotland in support of the pretender,
Perkin Warbeck. Afterwards its fortifications were repaired and new
buildings were added, and the castle was thought to be impregnable. But in
1513, during war between England and France, the outer ward fell to a two day
long bombardment by the artillery of James IV, France's ally, and the inner
ward was forced to surrender when it ran out of ammunition. Three weeks
later, the castle was back in English hands due to the defeat of the Scots at
Flodden. All that remained standing, however, was the keep and part of the
west wall, and the work of rebuilding and furnishing the castle with artillery
continued throughout the first half of the 16th century. After 1550 however,
no further work appears to have been carried out and the castle was allowed to
decay, even after its alienation to the Crown in 1559. Elizabeth I resolutely
refused to allocate money for its repair, and with her death in 1603 and the
union of the Scottish and English crowns, the castle effectively ceased to
have any function. It was purchased by George Home, Earl of Dunbar and since
then has had numerous owners. It has been in State care since 1923 and is
also a Grade I Listed Building.

All English Heritage fixtures and fittings and all modern field walls and
fencing are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath is

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A tower keep castle is a strongly fortified residence in which the keep is the
principal defensive feature. The keep may be free-standing or surrounded by a
defensive enclosure; they are normally square in shape, although other shapes
are known. Internally they have several floors providing accommodation of
various types. If the keep has an attached enclosure this will normally be
defined by a defensive wall, frequently with an external ditch. Access into
the enclosure was provided by a bridge across the ditch, allowing entry via a
gatehouse. Additional buildings, including stabling for animals and workshops,
may be found within the enclosure. Tower keep castles were built throughout
the medieval period, from immediately after the Norman Conquest to the mid-
15th century, with a peak in the middle of the 12th century. A few were
constructed on the sites of earlier earthwork castle types but most were new
creations. They provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading
families and occur in both urban or rural situations. Tower keep castles are
widely dispersed throughout England with a major concentration on the Welsh
border. They are rare nationally with only 104 recorded examples. Considerable
diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With
other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to
the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative
centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles
generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a
valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and
defence, and to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining
significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally

Norham Castle is a well-documented example of a 12th century tower keep castle
which remained in use till the end of the 16th century. It was one of the
strongest castles in the north of England and part of its importance lies in
its role in the wars between England and Scotland and its associations with
the Prince Bishops of Durham. Not only are its standing remains in a good
state of preservation, but a wide range of ancillary features survive as
buried remains within its three wards.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hunter Blair, C H, Honeyman, H L, Norham Castle, (1966)

Source: Historic England

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